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The Evergreen

                     by Austin Alexis

An enormous tree looms, high and mighty, on East Houston Street. Is it a Norwegian spruce? Whatever it is, it belongs to the evergreen family. It resembles a living room Christmas tree magically overgrown, like the tree in The Nutcracker ballet that propels itself out, out, way out of the floor on its journey to become the most massive object in the house--more gigantic than the house itself. This East Village spruce is larger than the nine-story apartment building it stands next to, subtly sways next to, as its reflection glimmers in the building’s glass façade. When snow falls, I wonder if the tree’s branches mimic huge angel arms or the limbs of an expansive, alluring monster.

The tree forms a perfect triangle. If a person gives up on finding perfection in this world, let him or her behold this spruce. She or he might want to pray to it; it has that kind of aura: otherworldly, its dark layers evoking the mystical. Its heft feels maternal and spiritual, rather than overwhelming and oppressive.

Claude Monet, in his paintings, posits a vision of reality that is transient, provisional. Few things are as fleeting as sunlight. His fascination with light and with fragile entities, such as water lilies, expresses a sensibility that sees importance and meaning in the ephemeral. Yet paint is all substance and is as physical as flesh or rock. Likewise, this tree is both solid and ethereal. It stands as a fairy tale plopped down in the harsh existence of urban America. Hurrah for plurality.

A neighborhood poet once wrote a poem inspired by this tree. She posted the poem online, and when I read it, I immediately emailed her to tell her that I’d written a poem about that same tree. We’d known each other for years, and we would never dream of competing against each other, in poetry or otherwise. Whatever tension that existed resided in the works themselves: My poem fretted about the perfection of the spruce (or pine or whatever I might call it), which was so different from and alien to the imperfection of life. Her poem struggled to evoke the poet’s sacred experience of the living, breathing vegetation--in language, a thorny task. I imagined her hunched over a notebook as she sipped juice in the cafeteria across the street from the tree. She scribbled sentence fragments and even mere syllables that were meant to capture the spooky immensity of the tree, its small leaves collectively creating a humongous vertical angle, the steep diagonals of its sides climbing upward, its dark bark occasionally making an appearance through its layered thicket of foliage. In my imagination I saw her frustrated frowns, even heard her exclaim, “Damn it!” as she became tangled in the poison ivy of writing about--or trying to write about--what she was witnessing.

The tree. What a name! It deserves a better title--but what? What moniker can live up to the impression it makes, lording over shrubs, benches and an iron fence that separates it from the sidewalk that runs parallel to the plot where it grows? Maybe I should name it the giver of oxygen. In a world of asphalt, concrete, tar roads, slate pavements, we need all of the flora we can get. In a world of climate change and its deniers, gargantuan trees should be called saviors.

It thrives in earth, on a narrow strip of land that is a community garden, the first community garden in Manhattan, created by Liz Christy and friends in 1974. Ironically, despite its massive root and unwieldy span, it flourishes on turf narrower than some New York City apartments. Was this garden planted around the pre-existing tree? Or was the tree transplanted from another location, and then hauled here to enhance this site: a patch of greenery much needed on the edge of a busy city thoroughfare--a wide, traffic-filled street that should be renamed a boulevard? What folly to even ask these questions. It wouldn’t hurt to know the answers, yet it truly doesn’t matter how such magnificence got here, or why, anymore than it matters why my eyes are brown, why the sea is green, or why human beings are capable of appreciating, even worshipping, beauty.


©Gerry de Burca: AlieNation